By Felicia Ennis, explorebigsky.com contributor
Plink, plink, plink.
I drove 70 miles north to White Sulphur Springs, an unassuming town with an outstanding resource of hot water. These healing waters are laden with sulfur, magnesium and lithium, and its pools are drained, cleaned and refilled daily. At 105 degrees, the inside pool is like a steam room and hot pool mixed into one.
“If you start to feel soggy, it’s time to move into the next pool,” a local soaker advised me.
Geothermal features like the springs at White Sulphur come from deep in the Earth’s crust and are found worldwide in earthquake and volcano belts.
Water temperatures in the springs vary greatly. Some aren’t warm enough for a winter dip, and some – like most in Yellowstone National Park – are scalding hot. But quite a few in the Yellowstone region have temperatures between 90 and 106 degrees Fahrenheit, just right for a nice, long soak.
The hot springs in southwest Montana run the gamut from primitive wilderness to historic resort to modern athletic facility. Here are a few favorites.
Chico Hot Springs Resort
Chico sits at 5,270 feet in the Paradise Valley between Livingston and Gardiner. Pioneers have written about these springs since the 1860s, and the 40-room Chico Warm Springs Hotel opened in 1900. Today, Chico is a favorite of locals and tourists alike.
Soak: Large pool maintained at 96 F, side pool averages 103 F
Ski: 53 miles to Bridger Bowl
Special quality: Worth visiting solely for its great food
Bozeman Hot Springs
Jeremiah Mathews first opened Bozeman Hot Springs in 1879 as a bathhouse. Fully renovated in 2011, the facility now boasts a fitness center, nine pools, swimming lessons and a party room.
Soak: 90-104 F
Ski: 45 miles to Big Sky/Moonlight
Special quality: Water temperatures vary greatly between pools
Jackson Hot Springs
The 9,000-square-foot rustic lodge was built in 1950 and houses a giant oak dance floor, a large stone fireplace and a sturdy bar. More than 50 wild game trophies from several continents line the walls. Don’t miss the delicious homemade food at the Crossing Bar & Grill at Fetty’s in nearby Wisdom.
Soak: 100-104 F, Olympic-sized pool
Ski: 44 miles to Lost Trail, 29 miles to Maverick Mountain
Special quality: Wildebeests in Montana
Fairmont Hot Springs
Fairmont has it all: a 350-foot waterslide, an 18-hole golf course, two Olympic-sized pools with unlimited hot, healing water, a fitness center and camping.
Soak: Pools are fed by 155-degree water, cooled to various temperatures from 98-105 F.
Ski: 30 miles to Discovery Ski Area
Special quality: 350-foot enclosed water slide
One of very few hot pools in Yellowstone National Park open for soaking, the Boiling River sits where its 150-degree namesake meets the icy Gardiner River. The two swirl together and are captured in a series of primitive stone pools. Soak long enough, and you can imagine the Native Americans who spent time here in centuries past. It is closed during spring runoff.
Soak: 140 F in undiluted channels, 50-120 F where water mixes with the Gardiner River
Ski: 55 miles to Cooke City, a backcountry haven
Special quality: Situated on the 45th parallel, halfway between the equator and North Pole
Based in Livingston, Montana, Felicia creates customized travel itineraries and group excursions to Patagonia, Morocco, Montana and Antarctica for groups, couples and solo adventurers who love the serendipity and thrill of exploring the world. bellatreks.com